May 23, 2006 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Two Italian F-16s (#MM7246 & #MM7263) ditched into the sea yesterday near Sardinia, Italy, during the international exercise "Spring Flag 2006". The incident occurred during a night training mission.
AMI F-16A ADF #MM7264 during take off at sunset from Trapani-Birgi AB on May 16th, 2005. [Photo by Alessandro Palantrani]
The two F-16s were on their way to Decimomannu AB in Sardinia when the 'Spring Flag' control center at Elmas suddenly lost all communications with them. A search and rescue (SAR
) operation was launched immediately and was coordinated from the Harbor Master's Office at Cagliari.
The crash-site was quickly located - the F-16s crashed into the sea about 5 miles from the Capo Ferrato in Sardinia. The pilots had managed to eject safely from their jets. After approximately one hour, a SAR helicopter extracted the two pilots from the water. Patrol vessels in the area took part in the search.
The F-16 jets belong to the 37º Stormo (Wing) and usually operate from Trapani-Birgi AB (Sicily), the main operating base for the Italian F-16 fleet.
The causes of the incident are still under investigation. The hypothesis of an in flight collision of the Italian jets is however most likely at the moment.
The two pilots, Pier Francisco Grassi (29) and Fabio De Luca (30) were taken to the Marine hospital of Cagliari. They are in good health and only suffer light contusions.
The F-16s have been acquired by the Italian air force under the Peace Caesar F-16 FMS
program. In 2001 the Italian government signed a Letter of Agreement for a 5-year lease (with an option on another 5 years) of 34 F-16s and spares. The first jets arrived at their new Sicilian home base in June 2003.
The "Spring Flag 2006" exercise is held at the Decimomannu Air Force Base in Sardinia, Italy
, which has an Advanced Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation (ACMI) range. The goal of the Spring Flag exercises is to prepare aircrews for international peacekeeping operations. The nine countries due to participate were Belgium
, Britain, France, Germany, Israel
, Italy, the Netherlands
The Swedish delegation was strangely enough withdrawn by their government because of the Israeli Air Force's involvement in the exercise.